Women's Basketball Season Outlook
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A year ago, Howard head coach Niki Reid Geckeler guided the Lady Bison to an eighth place finish in the MEAC in with a 7-9 league mark as HU advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Howard suffered its share of bumps and bruises through the 2008-09 slate, but was able to test its mettle against the MEAC's best competition. Howard more than doubled its win total from the previous year.
Headed into the 2009-10 campaign, Lady Bison fans will look for Coach G to continue to build HU into a program that consistently wins and advances to the post season. This season, the team will feature seven returning scholarship players and eight newcomers. And with the return of All-MEAC second team selection Zykia Brown and the arrival of eight skilled newcomers, the Howard women's basketball program is poised to make an upward climb in the league standings.
I think we have all MEAC-level players here, players with great potential that will be able to make strides every day," said Geckeler. "We have great chemistry; everyone wants to perform well and get better. This is a really good group."
Junior Zykia Brown returns as the team's leading scorer from last season. The guard ranked third in the MEAC with 17.3 points per game and received MEAC Player of the Week honors twice. The Riverdale, Md. native is lightning-quick and relentless on the defensive end, the type of floor general that can help the Lady Bison get to the next level.
Jalisa Pullins was Howard's second-leading assist woman as a sophomore last season with 2.5 per game, a number that rose to 3.3 in league contests. Pullins spent her offseason on campus and is ready to take on the mantle of leadership.
Newcomer Cheyenne Curley-Payne should also push for playing time at the point guard position. A native of Chula Vista, Calif., Curley-Payne led the nation with 328 steals as a junior at Eastlake High School, breaking the old mark set by WNBA standout Candice Wiggins. She totaled 1,065 career steals and set new state and local California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) marks during her storied high school career, making her the all-time national career steals leader.
"We are really excited to bring Cheyenne into our program. She is a true point guard, and she is going to bring a great deal of creativity and ball-handling to our team," said Geckeler. "Cheyenne is extremely tough and is an excellent defender."
Freshmen Jerelle Gorham and Tomaria Holmes add depth to the Bison backcourt. The duo played together at Hillside High School in Durham, N.C. and helped their squad to a 26-6 finish in 2009.
The 5-8 Gorham is a versatile athlete with the ability to score and create and the 5-6 Holmes was a 2009 McDonald's All-American nominee for the Hornets. She was invited to the Michael White Top Ten All American Camp in 2008.
"Jerelle will have an immediate impact on our team and Tomaria is an extremely versatile basketball player who will be able to fill a number of roles on our team," Geckeler elaborated."
Sophomore India Bradford and junior DonnaLee Scharschmidt all return to bolster the Bison backcourt.
Major contributions are expected from the forward position, in particular from senior Charae' Baulkman and junior Amanda Edwards. A consistent contributor on both ends of the floor, Baulkman is the top returning rebounder at her position with 3.7 boards per outing last year. Edwards will provide depth at the post after starting 14 games as a sophomore and playing in 30.
The Bison will be a force to reckon with in the post as the coaching staff welcomes five newcomers to the Mecca.
Local product Cabria Johnson starred at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md. and has been rated a top-25 prospect in the Real Basketball Report (MD/DC/VA/WV Region). She was a McDonald's All-American candidate before suffering a season-ending injury prior to the start of her final campaign. The 5-11 Johnson helped Seton to an impressive 24-7 in 2008-09 and 14-4 in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) play.
"Cabria fits in with our system and I think she's going to have an opportunity here to really advance her game. I'm really looking forward to working with her," Geckeler said.
Kara Smith joins Howard after averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds during her senior campaign at Whitney M. Young High School in Chicago, Ill. The 6-0 forward helped the Dolphins to a 31-2 record in 2008-09 and a No. 10 in the USA TODAY Super 25 poll to close out the season.
"Kara is a great asset and will bring creativity and toughness to the floor for us," stated Geckeler.
Julee' O'Neal joins classmates Gorham and Holmes from Hillside High School (Durham, NC). The 6-2 post helped her squad to a perfect 12-0 home record in 2008-09 and was named to the 4A East Regional All-Tournament team.
"Julee's versatility of being able to play inside and outside will contribute to our overall depth," Geckeler said. "She is a blue-collar worker at both ends of the court."
Twin towers Portia and Nicole Deterville round
out the recruiting class for HU. Portia, a 6-1 forward/center, had
career averages of 18 points and 12 rebounds per game at Weston
Collegiate Institute and helped her squad to the provincial
championship semifinals in 2009.
"Portia will be a great asset to our team," said Geckeler. "I am super excited to have her. Most importantly she is consistent. Night in and night out you can count on the same numbers from her."
Nicole was co-captain in her final campaign at Weston and helped her team to the City of Toronto ‘Final 4' qualifier. The 6-1 forward/center was invited to the All-Canada Classic for her efforts. A talented athlete, Nicole was also a silver medalist in the track program at Weston.
"Nicole can play two positions. She is a tough kid, mentally and physically, and plays well fundamentally," Geckeler added.